Toddler cognitive / linguistic development, part 4

The kid has acquired glottal stops! For several days now, he’s been saying “niʔnn” (like a slurred “neaten”). The word appears to be entirely of his own invention, but we’ve figured out that he uses it when he wants to go outside.

Now that I think about it, that may not be entirely correct. His original usage may have been relatively inchoate, and our act of trying to interpret and respond to what he was saying may have shaped his usage. That’s an aspect of language-learning and -use that I’ve never really considered before, and I find myself wondering if it plays any significant role in phenomena like semantic drift.

The other use is in button (“baʔnn”), which he applies to both buttons (he said it while I was buttoning up his shirt) and to buckles (he uses it in reference to his stroller and booster seat). This raises an interesting question as well: is he using one word for two things because it’s close enough to both of them phonetically for him? Is he lumping them both into the same cognitive category, so that both buttons and buckles fall under a category of fasteners that he calls “baʔnn”?

Currently his big craze, phonetically, is about beeps. He takes note whenever a truck, bus, or other piece of machinery makes one of those high-pitched beep-beep-beep sounds, like the backing-up noise. He repeats it when he hears it, and he makes it when he’s playing with toy trains and trucks. It’s really interesting seeing what catches a kid’s attention!


One final point of interest. His mother taught him the word mimi for “water.” At first I thought that this was standard Japanese baby-talk for mizu (, “water”), but later she revealed that she made it up and taught it to him as an experiment! He’s really taken a shine to it, either way. He used to use his version of the Japanese word for “drink” (飲む – nomu – which he pronounced “moo”) for liquids, but that’s been supplanted by “mimi.” So “mimi” now applies not only to all potables and to puddles of water, but also to snot. If the kid runs up to you and says “Mimi! Mimi!” in an excited way, it’s up in the air whether he wants a drink, found or spilled some water, or wants you to wipe his nose!

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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